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Use This 4-Phase Model to Handle a Life Crisis

Almost everyone experiences a life crisis at some point. It’s part of the human experience. But what makes the difference between those who overcome it and those who let it ruin the rest of their life is how well they cope with the crisis. 

Johan Cullberg, a Swedish psychiatrist, created a four-phase model of how people respond to a life crisis:

  • First, they experience a shock. This may last hours or days. Some describe feeling detached, viewing the crisis as surreal. Others describe overpowering emotions like confusion, panic, or anger.
  • Second, they react to the situation. They might go into denial, feel guilt, or blame themselves. 
  • Third, they heal and process what happened.
  • Fourth, they reorient and see the world differently. Although the event will always fill them with some angst, many find that they emerge stronger than before.

While you may skip a stage in this behavioral model or some stages may blend with others, it gives you some perspective on how to cope with a life crisis.

With this model in mind, let’s see how this model works with three hypothetical life crises.

What to Do If You Get a DUI

After you’re charged with a DUI, the law moves quickly. First, there’s an arraignment. You have a hearing and a judge formally charges you.  You can plead guilty, try a plea bargain to get a lesser charge, or request a trial before a judge or a jury.

If found guilty, the law requires you to use a device to test your breath for alcohol whenever you want to drive your car. Although there are many types of devices, the easiest is an ignition interlock device, which only requires a 3-second exhalation to test a breath sample.

If you get a DUI, the legal processes might frighten you. Feel these feelings fully. This will help you get through the first stage of a crisis — the feeling of shock. If you find the entire process to overwhelming to manage, then ask for help. You can ask your family or friends for emotional support, or if this isn’t possible, then get a therapist or join a support group.

Getting emotional support will help you put the crisis in perspective. A DUI will not ruin your whole life. The situation is temporary. You will make it through. When you feel less isolated, you’ll be able to put everything into perspective and arrive at the other stages of the crisis model — emotional healing, accepting your situation, rationally processing what happened, and taking constructive action. 

What to Do If You Get a Scary Medical Diagnosis

If a medical diagnosis reveals that you have a life-threatening illness, the first stage is to fully feel your feelings, allowing yourself to cry, or experience whatever other emotion you’re feeling.

Next, ask for help emotional support from family, friends, therapists, and others. Don’t go through the experience alone or try to be a stoic. Denial, minimization, or other forms of suppression will only stop you from thinking clearly enough to take constructive action.

Finally, once you’ve accepted your situation, do what you can to find a cure or go into remission. Assemble a medical team and get whatever medical support is available to help you. When you deal with this medical crisis in the most practical way, you will stop feeling helpless.

What to Do If You Have a Financial Emergency

When you have a financial emergency, the first step is to feel your feelings as fully as possible — the fears, the self-blame, or whatever else comes up. 

Next, make a long list of steps you can take. These may include:

Borrowing money: You can get money from a bank, a payday loan, a family member, or a friend.

Selling something: See what you have of value, ranging from collectibles to jewelry and use an online auction to sell them.

Finding a temporary job: Consider all possible side-hustles that you might be able to do.

Working more: Ask your employer for overtime work.

Every life crisis is different, but these examples should give you an idea about the four basic steps to take. 

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